There's No Place Like Home

LONG BEACH, CALIF., home to 440,000 people and this year's Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) annual WASTECON trade show, operates like a well-oiled machine.

Employing a fleet of 33 side-loaders, 36 rear-loaders, 4 roll-offs and 15 support vehicles to collect trash and recyclables, the Long Beach Environmental Services Bureau provides waste disposal services for 115,000 single-family homes, plus approximately 8,000 apartment units and small commercial accounts — often competing for this work with 25 private waste companies in the region.

According to James R. Kuhl, manager of the Environmental Service Bureau, the city's three side-loaders provide commercial service for customers with 300-gallon containers, while rear loaders service small commercial accounts with two-yard bins. This contributes to an average yearly pickup of approximately 220,000 tons of trash, he says.

Additionally, private haulers under contract collect another 790,000 tons of refuse. For instance, Waste Management Inc., headquarterd in Houston, collects approximately 30,000 tons of recyclables per year from Long Beach residents under a $4 million annual contract with the city. Another 75,000 tons of recyclables come from Long Beach businesses dealing with private haulers.

The Bureau employees 179 people and pays for its operations with a budget of $35 million per year, which covers refuse and recycling collections as well as street sweeping and parking enforcement.

Yet summary statistics quantifying disposal and recycling tonnages fail to accurately describe the city's accomplishments in the field of solid waste.

In the past decade, Long Beach has reduced its trash tonnage by approximately 58 percent, ranking as the largest California city certified as meeting and exceeding a state mandate that all jurisdictions reduce the amount of waste sent to disposal facilities by 50 percent by the year 2000. Long Beach surpassed the state's requirement by reaching a 55 percent diversion rate in 2000. The figure reflects the city's commitment to a long-term strategy developed in 2000 to focus the resources of all municipal departments on a concept defined as sustainability.

“Sustainability looks at the impact of city activities on the current environment and on the environment that we leave to future generations,” Kuhl says. “For our department, it means leaving less trash and less air pollution behind for the future.”

Initially, Long Beach began its sustainability undertaking by focusing, in part, on the state diversion law AB939. However, the city has surpassed these goals with its waste disposal, recycling and clean air initiatives.

No More Landfills

In 1980, the closing of a nearby landfill led Long Beach and the neighboring Los Angeles County Sanitation District (LACSD) to build a waste-to-energy (WTE) facility to dispose of refuse.

One of only three WTE installations in California, the Southeast Resource Recovery Facility (SERRF) disposes of all refuse and green waste collected in Long Beach — about 1,000 tons per day. Another 290 tons per day arrive from neighboring jurisdictions. With a capacity of 1,700 tons per day, SERRF will serve the region's needs for years to come, Kuhl says.

SERRF also recovers white goods prior to incineration and collects metals removed from the boilers after incineration. This helps to recycle an average of 825 tons of ferrous metals per month. Ash residue is treated and used at a local landfill as road base material.

Energy produced by the facility supplies a power grid with enough electricity to accommodate 35,000 homes, presumably some in Long Beach. This also produces between $2 million and $3 million in city profits per year.

“Closed-Loop” Recycling

As part of the city's recycling initiative, Long Beach residents commingle their recyclables for pickup and eventually receive at least a portion of those materials back in the form of new waste disposal bins and carts.

Waste Management delivers recyclable mixed fiber and plastics to area materials recovery facilities (MRFs). These facilities, in turn, sell many of their raw materials back to companies based in Long Beach areas designated as Recycling Market Development Zones, or RMDZs.

A partnership between California's state and local governments has led to a proliferation of RMDZs across the state. Companies within these zones receive low-interest loans to incubate operations that use recycled materials in manufacturing products.

In the early 1990s, for example, Talco Plastics Inc., Corona, Calif., received a city-state sponsored low-interest loan to set up a post-consumer manufacturing facility in a RMDZ. The company also benefited from a series of tax incentives and energy credits offered to RMDZ companies.

In return, Talco purchases baled post-consumer plastics processed at local MRFs. “We convert that material to pellets that can be used to manufacture products,” says William O'Grady, Talco vice president and general manager.

Talco purchases about 10,000 tons of baled plastic annually for use in its pellet manufacturing process, O'Grady says. In the course of a year, the company sells approximately 30 tons of pellets to the Los Angeles-based Rehrig Pacific Co., which manufactures curbside refuse carts and recycling bins purchased by Long Beach and delivered to city residents.

Both of these companies, of course, deal with other customers. But the point is that Long Beach has used the state-sponsored RMDZ system to close the loop and make sure that a lion's share of plastic disposed of by city residents returns to those residents in the form of recycling and waste disposal containers.

“I estimate that between 20 percent and 30 percent of the resin weight in those containers is post-consumer resin purchased from Talco,” says Mike Schwalbach, national environmental manager with Rehrig Pacific.

WASTECON attendees also will participate in a Long Beach recycling program that installs balers at business locations across the city. The Long Beach Convention Center (where WASTECON will be held) has purchased three cardboard balers under this innovative city program.

According to Kuhl, the balers cost approximately $10,000 each. The Convention Center bales cardboard waste produced during conventions and other events, and sells the material to recyclers. For a contracted period, the proceeds from the balers reimburse the city for the machines' costs. Once the balers are paid for, the Convention Center keeps the profits. Kuhl says that the Convention Center program already has paid for two balers. The third will be paid-off sometime next year, with a substantial amount of help coming from the cardboard waste expected to be generated by SWANA at WASTECON 2002.

Keeping Trash Out Of The Air

Cleaner air represents one of the major objectives of the Long Beach sustainability initiative, and the city's Environmental Services Bureau has pitched in to help. “Recycling and refuse collection have positive and negative environmental effects,” Kuhl says. “Diesel emissions from trucks are a negative effect. One of the city's sustainability goals is to leave less air pollution behind for future generations.”

To that end, the Bureau began experimenting with alternative fuel vehicles in the early 1990s. Currently, the city operates 295 compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. These include refuse and roll-off trucks.

In October, just after WASTECON, Long Beach will receive delivery of 15 liquefied natural gas (LNG) dual fuel automated refuse trucks. By the end of 2006, the city will have replaced its entire automated refuse fleet with alternative fuel vehicles. All rear loaders will be replaced with LNG vehicles by 2009.

“[Al]though CNG is preferable to diesel, LNG is even a better fuel for us because of the fueling needs and requirements of our vehicles,” Kuhl explains. “The LNG vehicles can carry more fuel and stay longer on their routes because they don't have to return to base to refuel as often. Both of these kinds of alternative fuel vehicles reduce particulate emissions from trucks and help to improve air quality. We believe LNG will do this more efficiently for us.”

Another Bureau technology initiative aimed at air quality and efficiency involves re-routing Long Beach's refuse collection fleet. When the city installed geographic information system (GIS) software several years ago, Kuhl's department strived to develop ways to use that system to re-route the refuse fleet. “We hope to eliminate about 24 of 240 routes, or about 10 percent of our trucks,” Kuhl says. “This will save money on labor and equipment, reduce air pollution, and, we believe, enhance our service by allowing us to do special service requests on a more timely basis.”

Public Education Is Key

While the three initiatives are the focus of Long Beach's goal for sustainability, solid waste officials attribute much of the city's success to the cooperation of residents and businesses. A highly regarded public education program has helped to stimulate this cooperation, Kuhl says.

For example, since 1992, the Bureau has delivered environmental education to Long Beach schools and residents with a Traveling Recycling Education Center (TREC). This mobile facility opens up into a large stage that contains interactive exhibits with computers, videos and hands-on presentations. Teachers can schedule onsite “field trips” with the facility.

About four years ago, the Bureau also created a comprehensive website as a further means of reaching out to the community. According to Kuhl, the site is valuable for delivering information to the public. And in coming years, TREC and the website ( will be instrumental in moving the city's sustainability goals forward, he says.

By 2003, the Bureau hopes to add an additional 5 percent to its already high 55 percent refuse diversion rate; increase the recycling rate of mixed paper by 10 percent over 2000 volume; boost Christmas tree recycling by 5 percent; raise the number of phone calls to the Bureau's Hotline by 5 percent; and attract 7 percent more participation in local hazardous waste roundups.

These lofty goals, educational programs and achievements have led SWANA to recognize Long Beach with its 2002 Gold Award for Technical Excellence in Public Education. Likewise, the achievements of the Long Beach solid waste program might be viewed as a tribute to SWANA itself, a tribute made by the community where the association was born.

Michael Fickes is Waste Age's Business Editor.

Notes From SWANA's Past

From the minutes of SWANA: “On Jan. 19, 1962, Mr. Worth Johnson from Long Beach informed Mr. Purdy, Mr. Powers, Mr. Flint and Mr. Motz that he had arranged a meeting with an attorney, Leonard Putnam, for the purpose of incorporation.”

Two weeks later, on Jan. 31, 1962, the Government Refuse Collection and Disposal Association (GRCDA), was formed in the offices of the Long Beach City Hall; the organization's incorporation documents were signed at 1:30 p.m.

According to Roy Barbatti, national sales manager with Intec Video. Laguna Hills, Calif., the original organization's annual membership fees cost $10 per person for municipal solid waste members and $50 for corporate members. Barbatti also recalls that GRCDA's first convention, call it the first WASTECON, took place at a Huddle's restaurant just up the road from Long Beach in West Covina. The gathering ran up a tab of about $600.

“In the early days, the association was based in California,” Barbatti says. “It expanded into the western states in the 1970s. In the 1980s, as more chapters formed across the country, the name changed to the Solid Waste Association of North America, or SWANA.”

A GRCDA-SWANA member since 1967, Barbatti will receive SWANA's Life Member Award at WASTECON 2002. One of only a dozen or so ever conferred, the award commemorates Barbatti's contributions to the organization. Over four decades, he has served two terms on the group's international board and five terms on the boards in California.
Michael Fickes